Lonely Planet Writer

Women-only tours are on the increase in the Middle East

It seems like this is the year of the solo women traveller — with more women than ever deciding to head out on the road for transformative life experiences, without having to deal with spouses, lovers or BFFs in tow.

Women enjoying a food tour in Iran. Image by Intrepid Travel

Small group travel outfit, Intrepid has heeded the call of this energetic and enthusiastic travel demographic, announcing it will expand its women-only tours, following significant customer interest and bookings in 2018. This well-respected brand launched a limited-number of women-only tours in the Middle East this year, with itineraries – guided by female tour leaders – aimed at breaking down cultural barriers in the destinations visited – Morocco, Iran and Jordan.

One of the trips was to Jordan. Image by Intrepid Travel

There are many places in the world that are considered difficult for women to travel in, but as with any generalisation, the truth is always more nuanced. Intrepid’s tours offer women travellers insights into the traditions and routines of fellow women in each destination. 

Jenny Gray, regional product manager for Africa and the Middle East told Lonely Planet Travel News: “each country within the Middle East region comes with its own unique cultural and societal norms which can make genuine, local interaction challenging and complex for mixed gender groups. The consequence can be a genuine misunderstanding of women in the region. 60% of our travellers are female and these travellers genuinely want to understand women in their day-to-day lives in these countries. We see this is as an exciting opportunity for female travellers to go behind closed doors and learn about customs, food, challenges and the lives of other women across the globe.”

Women-only groups can go places traditional tours can’t. Image by Intrepid Travel

Women travellers on these tours are given access to areas that wouldn’t be possible with men in the group, places where women can meet and talk together like the beauty salon, female-only train carriages, a traditional hammam or a female-only park. Originally launched as just five departures, Intrepid has now expanded to 25 trips across the three countries, with tours departing all the way through to 2020. Iran in particular has proved particularly popular with travellers.

Intrepid Travel’s commitment to equality extends beyond its Women’s Expeditions; the company is committed to diversity and inclusion across its business. The ultimate goal is doubling its female tour leaders globally by 2020.

Working in tourism is not only a path for men in these destinations, travel and tourism can provide opportunities for women to find employment and empowerment. Intrepid is now employing 12 female guides in Morocco, up from zero just a couple of years ago. In India, the company recently achieved a 50/50 gender split in the intake of new leaders, made possible by proactively advertising for female applicants, creating targeted social campaigns, and educating women’s families on the importance and positive attributes of female employment.

The company is increasing its women-only trips. Image by Intrepid Travel

If you’re female and thinking where to go next on your next adventures, put Iran, Jordan or Morocco on your list and meet women travelling with like-minded women for a fresh perspective.